2020 Best Online Master's Degrees in ESL

By OnlineU Staff | Updated March 9, 2020
2020 Best Online Master's in ESL Badge

The 17 online colleges on this list are the best value options for online master's programs in ESL, based on their tuition and alumni-reported salaries. At #1, Purdue University - Main Campus charges $13,000 per year for their MS in Education in Curriculum and Instruction - English Language Learning. At #15, Stephen F. Austin State University has the least expensive tuition on the list, charging only $6,060 per year for its Master of Science in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL).

Alumni salaries were provided by PayScale. View our methodology for more details or learn more about OnlineU.

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Rank School Annual Tuition Mid-Career Salary
# 1 #1 $13,000 $89,200
# 2 #2 $15,249 $89,000
# 3 #3 $7,572 $78,200
# 4 #4 $7,080 $76,900
# 5 #5 $6,900 $75,800
# 6 #6 $9,187 $68,600
# 7 #7 $13,131 $67,300
# 8 #8 $9,765 $63,900
# 9 #9 $11,849 $64,700
# 10 #10 $8,512 $63,100
# 11 #11 $11,050 $62,800
# 12 #12 $7,904 $59,100
# 13 #13 $6,300 $58,400
# 14 #14 $15,300 $61,200
# 15 #15 $6,060 $57,000
# 16 #16 $16,950 $59,800
# 17 #17 $27,510 $54,800
Salary data provided by Payscale Logo

2020 Online Colleges Offering ESL Degrees - Ranking Details

#1 Purdue University - Main Campus

  • Annual Tuition: $13,000
  • Median Salary: $89,200
  • Locations: West Lafayette (IN)
  • Accreditation: HLC

The College of Education at Purdue University has four fully online master’s degrees including an English Language Learning (ELL) Licensure program. Interested candidates must already hold an Indiana-state teaching license in elementary or secondary education. The ELL licensure is applicable for individuals pursuing a Master of Science in Education in Curriculum and Instruction through Purdue’s online platform. Online master’s degree students complete the ELL concentration courses alongside a curriculum that covers student-centered teaching approaches, student assessment, and education policy and trends.

#2 Mercy College

  • Annual Tuition: $15,249
  • Median Salary: $89,000
  • Locations: Dobbs Ferry (NY)
  • Accreditation: MSCHE

With campuses across New York, Mercy College is a private institution that offers several graduate-level online degrees. Among their online programs is a Master of Science in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL). The degree is available with two tracks: initial certification or professional certification. Interested applicants should determine if they have the appropriate teaching experience through the state of New York and complete prerequisite workshops before applying to the program. Applicants are required to have a liberal arts undergraduate degree, but not necessarily in the education field. Graduates learn techniques toward teaching a second language and strategies to better support those instructing non-native speakers.

#3 Seattle University

  • Annual Tuition: $7,572
  • Median Salary: $78,200
  • Locations: Seattle (WA)
  • Accreditation: NWCCU

Seattle University’s College of Education hosts a Master of Education in Educating Non-Native English Speakers. This fully online program trains students in the theoretical concepts and practical strategies of teaching English Language Learning (ELL) students. The master’s degree is a total of 48 credits. An ELL endorsement makes up 24 of those credits, while the Master of Education classes completes the additional 24 credits. The M.Ed. curriculum includes core requirements from the College of Education and a capstone research project.

#4 Western Governors University

  • Annual Tuition: $7,080
  • Median Salary: $76,900
  • Locations: Multiple Locations
  • Accreditation: NWCCU

Western Governors University, a fully online institution, provides a range of graduate-level degree programs for working adults, parents, and others who require a more flexible curriculum than traditional residential classes. Applicants with a current teaching license interested in better engaging non-native students and becoming more culturally competent educators may consider WGU's Master of Arts in English Language Learning. Accepted candidates learn the skills necessary to become an English Language Learning (ELL) or English as a second language (ESL) specialist. Most students in the ELL/ESL program complete the degree in 18 months.

#5 Saint Xavier University

  • Annual Tuition: $6,900
  • Median Salary: $75,800
  • Locations: Chicago (IL)
  • Accreditation: HLC

Saint Xavier University students have the chance to complete an online Master of Arts in Education with a concentration in teaching English to speakers of other languages (TESOL) or dual endorsement (learning behavior specialist one and bilingual/ESL). All Saint Xavier University online degrees are connected to the school’s Center for Instructional Design and Technology, which provides expert support for students and faculty engaged in virtual learning. The Master of Arts in Education requires that students complete core classes, as well as the 18 credit hours necessary for the TESOL endorsement, for a combined total of 30 credit hours. Most students complete the degree in two years.

#6 Kansas State University

  • Annual Tuition: $9,187
  • Median Salary: $68,600
  • Locations: Manhattan (KS)
  • Accreditation: HLC

Kansas State University offers a 31–36-credit ESL master’s degree online through the Department of Curriculum and Instruction. Students may earn a Master of Science in Curriculum and Instruction with a concentration in English as a Second Language. The ESL classes align with state and national standards. The curriculum entails foundational courses in teaching and learning, diversity, instructional technology, and scholarly research. On top of this, students spend a minimum of 15 credits in their ESL specialization learning about language assessment, teaching methods, and classroom practices. A three-credit practicum is required at the elementary or secondary level. Also required is a master’s report or a thesis. Interactive web-based courses are taught on the easy-to-use Canvas learning management system. Because all classes are 100% online and asynchronous, students can conveniently access their courses anytime. Interested students apply online and provide a detailed statement of objectives, resume/CV, contact information for three references, and unofficial transcripts at the time of application. Online students have access to the same advising, coaching, and tutoring resources available to on-campus peers.

#7 University of South Florida Online

  • Annual Tuition: $13,131
  • Median Salary: $67,300
  • Locations: Tampa (FL)
  • Accreditation: SACS COC

The University of South Florida – Main Campus offers a master’s in ESL online for those who have a bachelor’s degree and two or more years of relevant work experience. This ESL master’s degree online program provides a solid foundation in education and Teaching English Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL). The Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction with TESOL Specialization entails 33 credits consisting of nine core credits in educational foundations, 18 credits in the ESL concentration, and six credits of graduate-level electives. Students study assessment methods, curriculum and instruction, trends in foreign language acquisition, cross-cultural issues in teaching, and instructional strategies. The program culminates in comprehensive exams administered by the College of Education. Courses are conveniently accessible anytime through the interactive Canvas learning system that comes with 24/7 online Canvas support and chat features. Prospective students submit a USF Graduate Admissions application, statement of goals, two recommendation letters, official transcripts, and a resume. As part of the Florida Virtual Campus program, USF offers free online services and resources to help students achieve their academic and career goals.

#8 Ball State University

  • Annual Tuition: $9,765
  • Median Salary: $63,900
  • Locations: Muncie (IN)
  • Accreditation: HLC

Ball State University offers a Master of Arts in Education in Elementary Education with a concentration in English as a New Language. This 30-credit ESL master’s degree online allows students to specifically choose English as a New Language as their required concentration instead of Literacy, Early Childhood Education, or Elementary Education. Core courses cover literacy assessment, diversity, literacy development, and data-informed instruction. The area of concentration teaches students how to help students understand content areas while simultaneously working on English language acquisition. Online courses are conveniently accessible anytime via the Canvas learning system that also offers 24/7 tech support. Admission to the program requires an application, official transcripts verifying a bachelor’s degree, minimum 2.75 GPA, statement of purpose, statement of purpose, writing sample, and three recommendation letters. Students are supported through online academic advising, peer mentoring, technical support, and academic resources such as tutoring and writing help. Ball State online courses adhere to national Quality Matters (QM) standards that promote meaningful student learning.

#9 University of Memphis

  • Annual Tuition: $11,849
  • Median Salary: $64,700
  • Locations: Memphis (TN)
  • Accreditation: SACS COC

The University of Memphis offers a completely online Master of Arts in English with a concentration in ESL. Students take 11 classes for the MA in English and five classes for an ESL/EFL certificate. Courses in the area of concentration help students develop expertise in language acquisition, cross-cultural issues, and ESL teaching methods. Through classroom instruction and hands-on learning, students will learn ESL instruction, assessment methods, and literacy programs offered domestically and internationally. Asynchronous classes allow students to complete coursework around their work schedule instead of logging in at set class times. Prospective students submit an online application, transcripts, and two letters of recommendation. Faculty with solid credentials bring years of experience to their teaching. Opportunities are available for students to teach for a short stint in the Czech Republic. U of M Global Students Services assists students with registration, advising, tutoring, library access, technical assistance, and career planning.

#10 Arizona State University

  • Annual Tuition: $8,512
  • Median Salary: $63,100
  • Locations: Tempe (AZ)(and 4 others)
  • Accreditation: HLC

Arizona State University hosts an ESL master’s degree online that offers several start dates during the year. The Master of Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) is designed for those interested in ESL language teaching methods, linguistics research, testing, and assessment. Full-time students can complete the degree in three semesters. Also offered at ASU is a Master of Arts in English as a Second Language. Students learn how to effectively assist non-native English speakers with reading, writing, and speaking skills. Courses cover grammar for TESL, curriculum design, English grammar, intercultural communication, and lesson plans. The MAT program culminates in a capstone project. Although some classes may require occasional log-in times, students generally take convenient asynchronous courses that can be accessed anytime. Application to graduate studies at ASU involves completing an online application and sending in official transcripts. International students are also required to demonstrate English proficiency, such as strong TOEFL scores. An enrollment advisor reaches out to prospective students to answer questions and help with registration. ASU has a credit transfer policy that can reduce cost and length of study.

#11 Lesley University

  • Annual Tuition: $11,050
  • Median Salary: $62,800
  • Locations: Cambridge (MA)
  • Accreditation: NECHE

Lesley University offers three ESL master’s degree online programs. Options include the Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction – Elementary Education Generalist: English Language Learners; the non-licensure Master of Education in Educational Technology: TESOL; and the Master of Education in Individually Designed Program for Educators – TESOL. The purpose of these online degrees is to familiarize educators and specialists with evidence-based techniques for improving the reading, writing, and rhetorical skills of nonnative English-speaking students. The curriculum emphasizes assessment, educational theories, linguistics, writing across the curriculum, and integration of technology in classroom lessons. Asynchronous classes allow students to study and participate through chats and discussion boards when it is most convenient. Prospective students apply by submitting an online application, proof of a current teaching license, personal statement, official transcripts, and two letters of recommendation. The GRE is not required. Faculty have extensive experience in the subjects they teach. Admitted students are assigned an academic advisor to help them access student support services such as online tutoring. A designated faculty advisor helps students develop and follow an academic plan of study.

#12 Troy University

  • Annual Tuition: $7,904
  • Median Salary: $59,100
  • Locations: Troy (AL)
  • Accreditation: SACS COC

Troy University offers a 31–33-credit Master of Science in Second Language Instruction with a thesis and non-thesis track. Designed for the convenience of working adults, this ESL master’s degree online program offers five start dates throughout the year and short nine-week classes. The purpose of this master’s in ESL online program is to prepare students for teaching ESL/EFL. Some students go on to pursue a doctorate in TESOL and applied linguistics. The 27-credit core covers linguistics, grammar, assessment methods, and instructional strategies. The program culminates in a three-credit practicum and a one-to-three-credit capstone course that challenges students to apply their skills and knowledge to real-world scenarios. Courses are 100% online and asynchronous, so working adults can focus on their degree at convenient times. The admission process involves submitting an online application and a letter of recommendation and sending in official transcripts. Troy University has a flexible transfer policy that considers credit earned through the military and previous post-secondary enrollment. Students have access to an array of support services such as online tutoring, writing assistance, advising, and career counseling.

#13 University of Alabama

  • Annual Tuition: $6,300
  • Median Salary: $58,400
  • Locations: Tuscaloosa (AL)
  • Accreditation: SACS COC

The University of Alabama’s Bama by Distance program offers a 30-credit Master of Arts in Secondary Education with ESOL P-12 certification. The program is geared to aspiring ESOL teachers and specialists interested in helping learners from diverse backgrounds improve English-speaking skills. The curriculum focuses on instructional foundations, ESL assessment, teaching methods, and integrating technology into the curriculum. Students gain hands-on experience through field teaching and an internship. Admission to this master's in secondary education online program requires a bachelor’s degree, 3.0 GPA or higher, and an Alabama Class B teacher certificate or equivalency. Applications are reviewed on a rolling basis. Students can access syllabi and course materials anytime via the Blackboard platform. Faculty may also offer classes using Blackboard Collaborate Web Conferencing for an interactive, virtual classroom experience. Online tutoring, academic advising, online library resources, and student services are available to support student success. Faculty bring real-world experience to the classroom and offer practical strategies for teaching students with varying levels of English proficiency.

#14 Texas A&M University-College Station

  • Annual Tuition: $15,300
  • Median Salary: $61,200
  • Locations: College Station (TX)
  • Accreditation: SACS COC

Texas A&M University – College Station offers ESL master’s degrees online. An MA/MS in Applied Linguistics – TESOL can be completed in two years or less. Multilingual students often opt for the Master of Arts in Applied Linguistics. Unlike the MA, the Master of Science in Applied Linguistics does not have undergraduate language proficiency requirements. The curriculum consists of 30-semester credits of required classes and electives related to ESL instruction, which is considered an application of linguistics. Examples of subjects taught include TESOL methods, sociolinguistics, research, and discourse analysis. Students must pass comprehensive exams to earn a degree. Completion of a six-credit thesis is expected of students thinking about pursuing a Ph.D. in linguistics. Classes are asynchronous, so students can listen to lectures and work on their assignments 24/7 from anywhere in the world. Admission to the program entails an online application, one letter of recommendation, official transcripts, and a statement of goals. Students must have a bachelor’s degree, but a major in English or linguistics is not required. The program is well-suited to those planning to teach adults in community settings or abroad. Like other students at Texas A&M, online learners can access student support services such as web-based technical support, advising, and writing or tutoring assistance.

#15 Stephen F. Austin State University

  • Annual Tuition: $6,060
  • Median Salary: $57,000
  • Locations: Nacogdoches (TX)
  • Accreditation: SACS COC

Stephen F. Austin State University offers three ESL master’s degrees online. Students can tailor a Master of Education in Elementary Education degree to their career goals by selecting a concentration in the 36-credit ESL/Bilingual All-Level Professional Reading Specialist certification, or the 36-credit ESL/Bilingual Content Emphasis Graduate Program. Another possibility is the 24-credit Master of Education in Teaching & Learning – ESL/Bilingual degree. Each program offers educators an opportunity to gain knowledge and skill in serving the needs of diverse students. Courses in ESL/Bilingual instruction focus on language acquisition, foundations of ESL/Bilingual instruction, assessment, and teaching methods. Asynchronous classes allow students to access lectures, videos, and discussions at their convenience. Prospective students can apply by completing an application found on the Apply Texas website. Applicants should meet graduate school admission standards, which include a 2.75 undergrad GPA or a 2.8 GPA on the last 60 semester hours completed. Online courses are vetted by the Center for Teaching and Learning to enhance online delivery. Student support services include offerings such as online academic advising, career services, tutoring, disability services, and online library resources.

#16 Liberty University

  • Annual Tuition: $16,950
  • Median Salary: $59,800
  • Locations: Lynchburg (VA)
  • Accreditation: SACS COC

Liberty University offers a 30-credit Master of Arts in Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL). Full-time students can earn their degree in 12 months. Courses are taught in an eight-week format, and students can start eight times throughout the year. This ESL master’s degree online program is suited for those new to the ESL field, as well as current educators seeking career mobility. The purpose of the program is to prepare students to teach English literacy from a Christian worldview consistent with Liberty University’s mission. Students study English as a world language, cultural anthropology, curriculum and instruction, ESL assessment, and strategies for teaching grammar and pronunciation. The program shows students how to create fun and effective classroom environments. Courses are taught on the Blackboard learning management system that affords students 24/7 access to course syllabi, lectures, assignments, grades, forums, and discussion boards. Admission to the program requires an application and official transcripts verifying completion of a bachelor’s degree. Liberty University offers a flexible and generous transfer credit policy that can save students money and time. To help students complete their degree, the school offers online tutoring, library resources, study aids, webinars, and an academic advising team.

#17 Duquesne University

  • Annual Tuition: $27,510
  • Median Salary: $54,800
  • Locations: Pittsburgh (PA)
  • Accreditation: MSCHE

Duquesne University offers an online Master of Education ESL/TESOL Degree that applies theory to practice. Students working at an accelerated pace can complete the program in one year, but many students take 18–24 months to finish their MSEd. The curriculum consists of 24 credits of core courses in TESOL methods, applied linguistic theories, and understanding linguistically different students. Earning a degree also requires six credits of electives for a total of 30 credits. Courses materials, lectures, and discussions are delivered via synchronous and asynchronous formats that encourage engagement. Applicants with a 3.0 minimum GPA are eligible to apply. Admitted students can start in the fall, spring, or summer. The degree is for ESL teachers who hold an initial certification, ESL teachers working abroad or in private schools, and educators working with adult literacy. The ESL Specialist Certificate qualifies state-certified teachers to teach ESL in Pennsylvania schools. A TESOL Certificate is needed to work in overseas language centers. Duquesne offers students in this online secondary education degree program an interactive experience in virtual classrooms.

Online Master's in ESL Overview

Online master's degree programs in ESL are available to those who already have a teaching license and who want to add to their knowledge and skill set, as well as individuals who don't have a teaching background and who want to begin a career as an ESL teacher. This type of program will generally take two years to complete and will consist of around 30 credit hours of study. In order to be admitted to one of these programs an applicant will need to have earned a bachelor's degree, and depending on the program, this degree may or may not need to be in a related field. Depending on the nature of the program, the applicant may also need to have a teaching license and work experience in the field. Other typical admission requirements include letters of recommendation, an essay outlining the individual's career and educational goals, and a resume.

Classes that students may take include Language Structure and Acquisition, Linguistics, Language and Culture in the Classroom, and ESL for Children. Student teaching will also usually be required. After earning a master's degree, graduates will be qualified to work as an ESL teacher to students from Pre-K to the twelfth grade. Those who are looking to earn a master's as a way to become a licensed teacher will need to check with their state for any additional requirements.

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